On Angels’ Wings

I ponder death every time I fly.

I try not to dwell on it. Sometimes, I do. Like when the gate agent says, “Have a safe flight.” What, she couldn’t say, “Have a nice flight.” She has to use the word, “safe”? Fine.

My low-grade fear, however, does not keep me from flying. I love to travel too much. Thus, I fly whenever time off, last-minute deals, and wanderlust converge to create the perfect weekend-trip trifecta. I just don’t take it for granted that everything will be okay en route.

Mostly, it has been okay when I travel. Actually, when I think about it, it has all been perfect. I’ve flown around the world, and I’m still here.

But today’s flight, I won’t lie, was interesting.

Back story: Restaurant Gal Daughter is doing much better. Thus, Ohio won the toss, and I landed there for a quick weekend visit with Restaurant Gal Son.

As always when I visit my kids, I wanted to stay a day longer. I even conjured up bogus stories about plane delays to tell my manager. “Do you think they’d check?” asked Restaurant Gal Son.

“No, but I can’t do it. I can’t lie, and I can’t blow off tomorrow. I am training two people before I move on to another location,” I told him.

(Oh yeah, I am in transition, but for the same Big Boss. More on that later.)

And so I slept fitfully, waking up every half hour so I wouldn’t sleep through the alarm I set for 3 a.m. By 2:50 a.m., I gave up and got up. I showered, packed, checked out of the hotel, and tossed my stuff in my very chilly rental car by 4 a.m.

It was snowing. It was 12 degrees.

I could say I hate Ohio in winter, which I do. But what I really hate is winter. Anywhere.

It took forever to get to the airport. And I had to fill the car up with gas before I returned it. Ever filled up a car on an Interstate 70 at 4:45 a.m.? Trust me, you keep your head down and wonder why you’re so worried about a dumb upcoming flight. CRAZY people are filling up all kinds of vehicles at 4:45 a.m. in Ohio!

But I survived the fill-up and made it to the airport, even if it was with no time to spare.

I hustled through check in, as much as one can hustle through a line that snakes back and forth quadruple times because only two TSA inspectors are up and at work at that hour. I had my boots, belt, coat, and heavy silver necklace off (yes, I love to undress in public at the airport) and piled in the gray plastic bin a full two minutes before the two business people in front of me had wrangled their laptops out of their carry-ons.

Mine was a a doll-sized jet masquerading as a member of the fleet of a major airline. So cute, unless you are flying in this Barbie-perfect plane on a pitch black, snowy Monday morning from a city you’ll never explore because said city lays claim to this so-called “discount” airport–and that’s about it.

And I was okay with my single-row seat because I am not a big person. But woe to the average plus-size American who boards. Woe to them and their luggage and…hey, I wondered, are we too heavy to take off, now that everyone is aboard?

Which was when I began my pondering-death ritual for this homeward-bound flight.

The de-icing trucks converged and covered us in their magic potion, and then ended the chore so soon, that I wondered if we were now waiting too long to take off and allowing the de-icing chemicals to wear off, which would allow the now-sticking snowflakes to really stick and render our wings as useful as lead blocks.

Pondering death is energy sapping, at best.

We taxied behind two “real” jets that dwarfed our bite-sized plane, our engines whining like tiny children trying to mimic the big guys. And still the snow fell.

Then it was our turn. My stomach churned, more than usual. I felt nervous, more than usual. I said three “Our Fathers” in a row, really fast, which was not usual at all.

Something didn’t feel right.

And as we began the roll to take off, going faster and faster, and a clanging noise banged from the engine on my side of the plane, I had this thought, which I was sure was my last: “We’re on angels’ wings, now.”

I swear I had that thought.

And halfway down the runway, at full speed and mere seconds before the front tires lifted off the tarmac, we suddenly felt the reverse thrust of the engines, and lurched forward to a stop.

In the middle of the Goddamned runway, in the dark, in the snow.

No one said a word.

Then everyone leaned toward the middle of the aisle and looked at the lone flight attendant strapped in her seat at the front of the plane. And she looked side-to-side, clueless.

“That didn’t feel right,” said a man across the aisle from me.

“No, no it didn’t,” I agreed.

“Ladies and gentleman,” came the pilot’s voice over the intercom after a few seconds which seemed like hours. “We had an engine malfunction light come on and we will be returning to the gate for mechanics to take a look at it. My apologies.”

He then revved it and raced that puppy back to the gate faster than I imagined a plane could go while twisting and turning down short stretches of pavement marked J2 and H1.

That was comforting.

Our bags were unloaded. We were told to make arrangements at the gate for alternative flights. Who knew how long this one would be under a mechanic’s care?

Mr. Restaurant Gal just happened to call the minute I stepped back into the terminal. “Have you taken off, yet?” he asked.

Which was when I started to shake and feel kind of sick. I was really scared, and it had taken ten minutes to feel it.

I’d like to say I found another flight on another airline and happily quaffed a Bloody Mary en route home, a tale to tell. I’d like to say I had the nerve to stand up to the ticketing agent, when she said, “You don’t have a connection to make. You’ll stay on this flight. We’ll take off as soon as the engine is repaired.”

But I didn’t. I meekly got on the same broken plane two hours later, was greeted by the same perky flight attendant who told us all once again to use our seat cushions as flotation devices “in the case of a water landing.”

The pilot spoke over the intercom to tell us they had “deactivated” the engine’s broken component “because it’s not a requirement to have it active,” and all was good for take-off.

Thank you, Captain. Maybe next time you could leave out the insider details and just say, “It’s all fixed, now.”

And once again we were de-iced, and once again we began the roll to take off. And this time we did.

My stomach stayed in my throat the entire flight back, every odd noise seeming to signal the beginning of the end, every lurch seeming to herald the end, in fact.

We landed without incident an hour later. My bag beat me to the baggage claim area.

I worked my last day at this restaurant’s location, and I answered everyone’s same question, “How was your weekend?” with the same answer, “Good, because my plane didn’t crash, because it didn’t take off the first time. You know, we got a do-over.”

And I laughed as I said it.

But I know it was the angels. Their wings.

I’ll get on a plane again–sooner rather than later. And I’ll momentarily ponder death again, as always.

As for trips to Ohio, the last two have had their share of peculiar happenings, yes?

And the angels? I am keeping them right in my back pocket, for as long as they’d like to stay.






16 responses to “On Angels’ Wings”

  1. Jay Sun Avatar

    Glad to know that you are safe…:)

  2. H Avatar

    Glad to hear you got back safely. I’m not a happy flier so I’d have been anxious after all that too.

  3. Julie Avatar

    I had a scary experience like that once…. when we were landing. One of the lights had come on in the middle of the flight. Everyone could tell that something was up because the flight attendants had a serious discussion with the exit row passengers. When we landed, we had to assume the “crash position.” Nothing unusual happened, though. Just another light malfunction.

    Sitting on a flight like that makes you think, though. I was returning from my grandmother’s funeral and was already thinking about my own mortality. I actually felt pretty good about my life and didn’t have any regrets or any apologies to make. That was the most comforting part, but it didn’t stop me from praying.

  4. shakennotstirred Avatar

    Angels make really good traveling companions. Glad yours were with you on this trip.

  5. Natalie Avatar

    I suppose it’s comforting that they didn’t fly the first time.

    I really enjoy flying. When I was younger I used to think it would be fun to learn to fly an airplane. But I think in order to do that you first start out learning on those little toy planes and I will NOT fly in one of those. All the famous people always die in those little bitty private planes.

  6. Aaron DeLay Avatar


    Glad you’re safe. I worry that my latest email I sent in response never got to you.

    A story to dovetail on yours.

    I was on vacation with my parents and brother when we were younger. I had that same feeling as we were getting ready to taxi away from the gate. Flight attendants were moving about a little too fast and a little too much. People in the cockpit were talking in hushed tones.

    We heard mechanical clunking over and over. And over. I turned to my mother. “We’re not supposed to take off today. I know this plane isn’t getting off the ground.” I was a teenager at the time but I proved my powers of prognistication. The plane did indeed have a mechanical error or something.

    We took off hours later but we still jumped at every little sound. We landed safe and sound. I have never liked flying since that day. I will get on one of my last plane rides ever in February to come home for good. And then my wing span days are over for a little while.

  7. wineward Avatar

    It’s funny—I too, love to fly, but think about the possibility of impending death every time I board a plane. It’s not like I dwell on it, or anything, but every time I see the wings flex violently during turbulence, for example, I think to myself: I sure hope the guys who pull the maintainence on this baby weren’t hungover during its last checkup. Then I go back to my crossword puzzle,

    Same thing on rollercoasters, too. While I’m riding I imagine the track coming loose, allowing the cars to shoot off into space and crash into the structures below. But it never stops me from riding. Actually part of the thrill, I think.

    My scariest flight ever was landing at Laguardia at night during a fierce snowstorm. Snow was so thick you could barely see the houses below. Approaching the runway we hit a wind sheer that seemed to drop the plane about 100 feet (probably was more like 5-10). Definately the most scared I have ever been on a flight, but I forgot about it as soon as I saw the line at the taxi queue outside the terminal. Come to think of it, the taxi ride into Manhattan was probably just as scary as the landing was!

  8. Kim Ayres Avatar

    “I’m sorry this flight has been delayed, but rather than risk getting stopped by the police and breathalysed, the pilot chose to walk to the airport…”

    Sometimes I fid myself waiting for this comment to come over the intercom ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. little miss Avatar

    Alas, I have no scary plane stories to tell, though I’ve been on my fair shar of them! There is that feeling in the pit of your stomach, though, when you are on a 12 hour flight to Hong Kong, or a non-stop 20 hour to Australia where you just know that it is completely impossible for modern technology to have conquered such a long period in the air. I am certain of death everytime, yet live to write about it everytime.

    Perhaps you have something there with the angels wings!

  10. Becky Avatar

    When I was 13, I went on a trip to Australia with a bunc hof other kids- about forty of us. We had just boarded the plane and were getting ready to take off, when they brought it back around and made us get on a different plane.

    One of the fuel tanks was leaking. And this plane had forty kids on it.


  11. m Avatar

    Everytime I fly, without fail, I imagine some great invisible hand of God reaching down from the heavens, lifting the plane into the sky as it takes off. My fear is that if I forget to visualize the hand, the plane will crash.

    And in nearly every other part of my life, I’m rational and have a decent share of common sense.

    But flying – plenty scary on the best days!

  12. restaurant Gal Avatar

    So if what I am reading in these comments is correct, everyone who gets on a plane–from the most bored-looking frequent business flyer to the most sophisticated world-traveler–is actually thinking the same thing: “Is this bucket of bolts going to get off the ground and get me where I am going in one piece?”

    Somehow, I feel better knowing this.

  13. Fat Lazy Guy Avatar

    I haven’t flown in at least 5 years. Not because I’ve been afraid of flying, just because I haven’t needed to. However, in those 5 years of not flying, I have started to develop anxiety about flying. Whenever I think about it, I get an uncomfortable feeling. And not just because I’m sure I’d have to purchase two tickets ๐Ÿ˜€ It’s strange. I have a feeling like I’m the guy Alanis Morrisett (sp?) was talking about in her “Ironic” song.

  14. Dooce Fan Avatar

    I’ve never flown on a plane and I never will. I’m sure I would have a panic attack and hurt myself. You are brave.

  15. diinzumo Avatar

    I’m not a fearful flier. I used to despise airline flights because I lived in Japan, and to visit the US, I spent 14 hours stuffed in a small compartment with a hundred or so total strangers and only a tiny window and a collection of magazines for distraction. Then a friend of mine took me for a ride in a two-seat Cessna. WIth the yoke in front of me and windows all around offering a breathtaking view of the surrounding landscape, I was hooked. I got my pilot’s license in a year.

    Knowing how airplanes work does a lot to alleviate the fear. This knowledge gives you control, and loss of personal control–real or imagined–over a given situation is what makes people so uneasy about flying.

    About “people are always crashing in those small planes”: Remember that the media reports on this disproportionately, especially if famous people are involved. It’s not like these aircraft are dropping out of the sky at every opportunity.

    Anyway, I just thought I’d pitch in with a different viewpoint. I’ve been enjoying your blog for some time now. Keep up the good work!

  16. Suz Avatar

    Well, it made me cry because I know the fear. Lucky for all of you that your angel was able to talk to the pilot, as well. ๐Ÿ™‚

    For the record, my most scary flight story was a landing at O’Hare when the humongous jet blew a tire. My severe sinus issues when I fly made me oblivious to what was happening, but my fellow passengers looked absolutely terrified and ready to crawl to our side of the plane, so I knew something was wrong. ๐Ÿ™ Yikes. Worst flight ever was the one that left me with vertigo for two months after….

    Anyhoo, glad you are well, RG!